ANKARA, Jul 22 – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told Reuters on Thursday that there were significant failures in intelligence ahead of last Friday’s attempted military coup and that the armed forces would quickly be restructured and have fresh blood. Following are comments from the interview on topics including the events of Friday night, the network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he accuses of masterminding the coup bid, and his desire for an executive presidency:
On events during the coup attempt
“It was around 4 or 4.30pm (12.30am Saturday Malaysia) I got a phone call from my brother-in-law and he was informing me of some problems in Istanbul next to the Beylerbeyi Palace. He was telling me that
soldiers were actually cutting off streets, and they were not allowing cars to proceed to take to the bridge.
“When I got the news, initially I did not believe that this was happening and I called the head of national security, the head of national intelligence, I could not reach him. I called the chief of staff of the armed forces, I could not reach him, they were not in a position to be able to answer their phones.
“Then I tried to contact the prime minister, and although with some difficulty, we were able to get into contact with the prime minister . By 8pm, we had to do an assessment of the situation on site and after a while we started seeing some reports on TV channels. The first decision after that was to invite the media and the TV channels to our location and then I made the first declarations to them … What we resorted to was to go live by joining a broadcast via our cellphones .
“That was the opportunity for me to make my points, and I underlined the might of the people, I said repeatedly that it’s very important that there is a government and president of the republic elected by the will of the people and I was saying that such a coup attempt would fail.
“I invited the nation to the streets, to the squares of the cities, and simultaneously of course I was trying to assess and gauge the reactions of the people across Turkey. I was being informed that the people were marching, out on the streets, marching towards airports. So when I got this information, it became clear to me that I had to move.
“That involved taking a helicopter to Dalaman, and then with the children, the family, everyone gathered and in the helicopter we went to Dalaman where we got on the plane. Initially our destination was not certain … or we did not make it clear initially. It could have been Istanbul, or Ankara, that was sort of intentional.
“In the meantime, we were inquiring as to the situation of the landing tower of the airports in Ankara and Istanbul and we were informed that the tower in Istanbul was occupied. I was talking to our pilot, asking questions about the situation at the airport. He told me the landing strip was dark, the lights were shut off.
“I asked him how much fuel he had, and he told me he had enough fuel to keep us airborne for three or four hours, and then I also asked him if he could land without the lights on the landing strip. He said he could but he didn’t want to risk it. I told him to draw circles above the landing strip so he could check for any obstacles. As he was doing this, I was contacting the head of the national police for Istanbul and he assured me they would secure the perimeter in a very short time.
And it was very quick indeed, the tower of the airport was freed, the officials were able to put the lights back up and then we were able to land. “Having faith is one of the conditions of being a Muslim. I told my pilot that we are ready to face any risks. My wife, daughter, grandchildren, my son-in-law, my security detail, everybody was in the plane … Allah apparently decided for us to continue and not to perish that night.
On intelligence failures
“Intelligences agencies are not always excellent, they do not always master everything . And unfortunately in this incident, it is very clear that there was significant gaps and deficiencies in our intelligence. There is no point trying to hide it or deny it, I told it to the head of national intelligence, there is a significant shortcoming of intel in all of this.
“Unfortunately when I heard it from my brother-in-law, that was the first time I was hearing about it. It is very grave, very serious. This kind of armed coup attempt isn’t something you can plan in 24 hours, there must be more to it. Of course by drawing lessons from all that has happened, we will take steps. We have planned those steps and we will do the necessary follow-up.”
On suggestions the coup was staged
“It is indecent to say that. Do you have people saying that 9/11 was orchestrated by the United States, or can we attribute the latest incident in France to President Hollande’s administration? No, you don’t have people saying that. This attempted coup was against the nation.
“Why? Because the National Assembly was bombarded, it was against the nation that this was done. They did not stop there, they bombarded parliament, they also bombarded this very presidential complex, and we lost five martyrs as a result. Similarly, they attacked the premises of the prime minister, the special operations unit of the Turkish national police where 47 people were martyred.”
On meetings with cleric Fethullah Gulen
“Feto (Gulen), when he lived in this country, was a citizen of this country, and I was the mayor back then. He had some demands and requests. We met a couple of times, but those were not very lengthy talks or contacts. After 1999, there were some developments and we started having question marks in our minds. But in the past three years it became painfully obvious that it was an act of treason. But in terms of phone conversations, or one on one contacts, very limited, a very limited number of times.
On the Gulenist network
“We never considered even the possibility that they might be involved in this kind of a treason. They were citizens of our country and we supported them to the fullest as citizens of our country. They are traitors, that’s what they did, they betrayed this country. They are present in education, in trade, in religious affairs, they have always been two-faced if you want and now we see their real face very clearly.
“Both the Turkish armed forces, the Turkish national police, and all of our ministries, these people almost invaded all of these, occupied all of these institutions. They were occupying forces in these state institutions because they were not working for their homeland, and these traitors have to pay the price.
“There is an example I give, it is like a cancer, it is a cancer metastasising in the human body. The physicians will tell you we have cleaned it out, but after a while you might see the cancer coming back. This will be treated as another separatist terrorist organisation, the Gulenist terrorist organisation, and we will continue the fight … wherever they might be.”
On the possibility of another coup attempt
“It might happen, but it will not be so easy, because this time round we will be very attentive and vigilant.”
On military reforms
“We will also have the Supreme Military Council (YAS) meeting in a short while – it might be brought forward by a week, by the decision of the chief of staff, so we will be making the necessary preparations for that. The Supreme Military Council is chaired by the prime minister, the minister of defence, the chief of staff.
The relevant units of course are all involved. They are all working together as to what might be done and within a short amount of time they will be presenting their recommendations to the Supreme Military Council. “Within a very short amount of time a new structure will be emerging and with this new structure, I believe the armed forces will get fresh blood. I also think that after all that has come to pass, I think they must now have drawn very important lessons. This is an ongoing process, we will never stop, we will continue very actively, we have plans.”
On an executive presidency
“It might be considered as a part of a constitutional package, but instead of keeping it comprehensive in terms of its content, maybe it might be a bit more limited. By consulting with the political parties in parliament maybe we can envisage such a thing. If the political parties tell us … this and that article should be included or should not, both in terms of fighting the terrorist organisations, and for the sake of the fundamental rights and freedoms, and for fighting for democracy, all of those things are part of our agenda.
“If we can achieve consensus with the political parties then as a result of that consensus, we may not be able to get the 367 votes required, but failing that we might take it to the people in the form of a referendum. There was a vote in parliament with regard to instituting a state of emergency and 346 members of the parliament voted in favour. So it is food for thought in my opinion. Even in this kind of an environment, some people hesitated to vote for this.”
On state if emergency
“This state of emergency is not a curfew, people will still be on the street minding their own business and getting on with their daily life. It is a step that is taken to render daily life more functional in a short amount of time. As you know, France declared an initial state of emergency for three months, then prolonged it for a second three months, and now they have prolonged for yet another three months. … So there is no obstacle in terms of prolonging it. … After three months we can ask for second three-month period and extend it.”
On the economy
“In terms of the economy, we came from a very tough past. Turkey isn’t a country that really has the conditions pointed out by Standard & Poor’s. We have no affiliation to S&P, so how can an institution to which we have no affiliation make a declaration about us? It’s completely political.
“It is simply the proof that they are hired agents by other people. And Moody’s, if they come up with a similar statement, it’s not honest, it’s not objective. When you have an attempted coup in Turkey, how can you go ahead and decide if Turkey is a country in which people can invest or not, what’s your criteria for that?”
“They sided with the coup plotters, they’ve never been in favour of democracy … The stance of these international organisations, we simply cannot understand these positions. We will not mind what they have to say, we will mind our own business.” — Reuters